Saturday, March 19, 2011

In Defense of Jake Fox

Jake Fox stands next to Josh Bell to make his walk rate look better...
Kind of a funny title, isn't it?

After all, Jake Fox is leading the all of baseball with 7 home runs for spring training. The internet if filled with sportwriters singing his praises and fans are clamoring for him to make the roster as the backup catcher and, now, even a backup second baseman (!?!??).

However, two writers in the Oriole blogOsphere whose opinion I respect have been pretty derisive of The Fabulous Mr. Fox. Stacey and Andrew_G of Camden Chat hate, absolutely hate, the fact that Jake Fox does not walk much. Andrew summed it up thusly:

I think we need to dispell the myth of Jake Fox: decent bench bat.
The guy CANNOT get on base. His career year with the Cubs in ’09, he had a .311 on-base percentage. Two weeks of crushing Pirates Spring Training fastballs does not make him a viable bench bat.

There is no doubt that Fox is a free swinger. He has a mere 4.9% walk rate and chases balls outside the strike zone at a 42.0% rate for his major league career. He will never be a great hitter with those kind of peripherals.

However, his minor league numbers were a bit better than that. His walk rate over the last two years in the minors (covering AA and AAA seasons) was close to 8.5%. He may not approach that in the majors but he has a chance to improve and the projection systems think that he will.

But that's not where his value lies. He's a guy who hits for contact with enormous power. Outside of his unfortunate time in the Oakland Coliseum, he has an ISO well over .200 over the course of his brief major league career.

But there is a way to mask most of Fox's weaknesses as a hitter:

Split   G  PA  AB HR BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    vs RHP as RHB 114 277 252 15 14 60 .246 .296 .488 .784
    vs LHP as RHB  85 190 176  3  9 38 .222 .268 .330 .598

Fox should NEVER be allowed to hit against lefthanded pitchers. Ever. Even with his struggles since his graduation to the majors, Fox is a slightly better-than-league-average hitter and one with great power.

So his weakness against lefties can be masked in a part time role. And he would make a good bat of the bench late in a game. Why? Name a lefthanded closer in the American League. Well, there's one. The Athletics' Brian Fuentes and that's only if Andrew Bailey misses significant time with his recent injury. So I would have no problem with bringing up Fox to face any closer in the league.

So Fox has enormous power, can play the corner infield and corner outfield positions in addition to catcher, hits righties well and nearly all the closer in the game are righthanded pitchers.

Sounds like a pretty good backup catcher/bat of the bench to me.


Anonymous said...

Jake Fox is limited behind the plate..Throw out the spring numbers and take a close look at who will be the best possible back up catcher, handling pitchers and playing defense..That person is Craig Tatum not Jake Fox..Sorry!

DempseysArmy said...

I like Tatum, he's just fine I suppose. But Tatum is no great shakes behind the plate either. Fox is not far behind him with the glove but is miles ahead of Tatum at the plate.

Matt Wieters is already a top notch defender and will play the bulk of those games anyway. Tatum is a so-so glove...I'll take the better bat in this situation.